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Best Museums in San Francisco

By: Cityseeker
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Asian Art Museum

The Asian Art Museum is one of the largest museums in the Western world devoted exclusively to Asian art. Its holdings include nearly 15,000 treasures spanning 6000 years of history, representing cultures throughout Asia. Renowned architect Gae Aulenti oversaw the dramatic transformation of the building: it now features 40,000 square feet (3716 square meters) of gallery space, allowing the museum to better fulfill its mission of leading a diverse global audience in discovering the unique material, aesthetic and intellectual achievements of Asian art and culture.

San Francisco, CA, United States
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Contemporary Jewish Museum

Founded in 1984, the Contemporary Jewish Museum presents scholarly and artistic programs that explore the Jewish spirit and imagination. The museum offers contemporary views and Jewish perspectives on culture, history and art, with programs reflecting global ideas that tie to the past and remain relevant to all people today. World-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind was commissioned for the project. The 63,000 square foot museum provides a welcoming space where people from all backgrounds may encounter, celebrate and debate artistic forms of all varieties.

San Francisco, CA, United States
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Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD)

San Francisco's Museum of African Diaspora (MoAD) devotes itself to showcasing, through various mediums, the movement of Africans throughout the world. Photographs, artwork, narratives, all of these contribute to a growing understanding and appreciation of this complex human phenomenon. The museum holds a wealth of exhibitions, both on-location and online.

San Francisco, CA, United States
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San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art houses a permanent collection of over 15,000 works, including 4,700 paintings, sculptures, works on paper, and 9,000 photographs. Originally opened in 1995, the museum has exhibited the works of Henri Matisse, Richard Diebenkorn, Dorothea Lange, Paul Klee, Cindy Sherman, Matthew Barney and many contemporary artists. Designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta, the space itself is a wonder to behold. After a major renovation completed in 2016, the SFMOMA now boasts seven floors of art along with exiting new features including a living wall, sculpture garden and impressive views of Yerba Buena Gardens.

San Francisco, CA, United States
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San Francisco Fire Department Museum

The San Francisco Fire Department Museum showcases the history of firefighting in the city of San Francisco. Exhibits date back to 1849, when it was mandatory for each household to have an emergency bucket filled with water. You can find the various uniforms, fire-fighting equipment, fire engines, water pumps, and other essentials that have been used by the fire department over the years.

San Francisco, CA, United States
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Cartoon Art Museum

The Cartoon Art Museum is the only museum of its kind in the Western United States dedicated to the preservation of cartoons and comic art. It holds a collection of over 6000 pieces of art including animation cells and comic books and strips. Founded in 1984, the museum established a permanent home with support from Peanuts creator, Charles Schulz. The museum hosts exhibits, classes, and lectures for children and adults, and is home to a library and bookstore. Works by Bud Fisher Mutt and Jef, George Herriman Krazy Kat, and Schulz has highlighted the museum’s permanent collection.

San Francisco, CA, United States
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Exploratorium

Developed by physicist Frank Oppenheimer and opened in 1969, this innovative and interactive museum is dedicated to art, science and human perception. Relocated from the Palace of Fine Arts to Piers 15 and 17, the modern space features plenty of new green technologies including the largest solar panel roof in San Francisco and offers over 600 hands-on exhibits. These hands-on displays unveil the mysteries of science and language, and present these theories simply and succinctly. Webinars, special events and seminars occur throughout the year. This San Francisco gem is a must visit.

San Francisco, CA, United States
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San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

Located across from Ghirardelli Square and housed in a 1930s building that resembles a ship, this museum chronicles maritime history with photographs and interesting displays. However, the real attraction here are the WPA-era murals that have been recently restored. Visitors will be delighted by the historic and vivid artwork. Hours vary with the different attractions within the park. The Visitor Center is located at 499 Jefferson Street and the Maritime Museum is at 900 Beach Street.

San Francisco, CA, United States
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Musée Mécanique

A penny for your thoughts? In addition to a melange of penny structures, this quirky, offbeat museum has a variety of interesting gadgets and knick-knacks. A must-see is the toothpick amusement park, built by San Quentin inmates. Bring a handful of quarters to Musée Mécanique so you can play some of the antique games, including the miniature pinball machines. Visiting the museum is free of charge.

San Francisco, CA, United States
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California Academy of Sciences

Located in Golden Gate Park, the California Academy of Sciences is one of the greenest buildings in the city and has a platinum certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). The museum features the newly renovated and expanded Steinhart Aquarium, complete with ahands-on tide pool and the well-known alligator swamp. Other exciting features are the Morrison Planetarium, the four-story rainforest dome, and the Hall of African Mammals. In addition to these educational gems, the museum features other natural history exhibits as well as exhibits about global warming. The Academy Cafe offers international cuisine, while the elegant Moss Room restaurant is the only dining option available in the park past museum closing time. Don't miss Thursday nights when the Academy hosts Nightlife, with special lecturers, DJs, cocktails, and mingling for the 21 and up crowd.

San Francisco, CA, United States
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De Young Museum

Acting as a major cultural destination since 1895, the De Young Museum reopened in October 2005 in a facility designed by Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron and Fong & Chan Architects in San Francisco. The building is magnificent and from the observation tower you can get a great view of the park. It is open, airy and massive. It also has a perforated and embossed copper facade which goes very well with the greenery around the museum. The museum houses the world-renowned American Painting and Sculpture collection, dating from the 17th to the 20th Centuries. Primitive Art is highly represented with extraordinary pieces of Native American Art (from the ancient Teotihuacan City), African Art (statues and potteries) and Oceanic Art (shields, dance dress and masks). Admission is free the first Tuesday of each month.

San Francisco, CA, United States
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Legion Of Honor

The Legion of Honor houses more than 87,000 paintings, sculptures, decorative arts and tapestries. Some pieces date back 4000 years. The main floor is dedicated to the museum's permanent collection, much of which features the works of Rodin. European and ancient art are also on display at the Legion of Honor. The lower garden level features temporary exhibitions, ranging from Andy Warhol to Francis Bacon. Take a break in the museum cafe, which features light snacks and meals and has outdoor seating. The gift shop, though small, has a nice selection of postcards, books, posters, jewelry and some reproductions from this and other fine arts museums. Admission is free the first Tuesday of each month.

San Francisco, CA, United States
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